KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Matt Kenseth had to choke back his words when he got to Victory Lane, fumbling with his sunglasses in an attempt to hide his emotions.
His 14-year run at Roush Fenway Racing is in the homestretch and Kenseth is going out with class, dignity — and wins.
He slammed his No. 17 Ford hard into the wall at Kansas Speedway midway through Sunday's race, went to pit road to let crew chief Jimmy Fennig fix the car and then drove it to his second victory in three weeks. The bond between driver and crew was clear in the post-race celebration, even though Kenseth tried to play it cool.
"It really means a lot; I don't want to get too emotional," he said, talking fast to try to get through it cleanly.
Kenseth is leaving Roush at the end of the season for Joe Gibbs Racing for personal reasons he's only vaguely explained in detail. The decision was made in June, but Kenseth couldn't discuss it publicly until September.
Now that he's in his final month with the team that gave him his break in NASCAR, he's got to be feeling a bit nostalgic.
"I really want to thank Jack Roush, Robbie Reiser and Mark Martin. Without them guys, I never would have been at Roush," Kenseth said in Victory Lane before shifting into the obligatory sponsor rundown. Changing the subject allowed him to compose himself, to keep these sentimental moments private.
Kenseth and Reiser have been together their entire NASCAR careers, and before that as short-track racers in Wisconsin. They moved to NASCAR together with a then-Busch Series team in 1997 and went Cup racing as driver and crew chief at Roush two years later.
Reiser guided Kenseth to the Cup championship in 2003, and as general manager of the organization has been part of Kenseth's two Daytona 500 wins and 24 career Cup victories, which ties him for 26th on the all-time series list. He has made the Chase every year but one, and has won at least one race each year in all but two of his 13 full-time seasons in the Cup series.
Kenseth has also notched 26 Nationwide Series wins in what many believe is a Hall of Fame-worthy career.